Paddy sounds fracking alarm

Tuesday, Mar 20, 2012 12:35 pm | John Gleeson
Noel West/Mountain View Gazette
Noel West/Mountain View Gazette
Paddy Munro gives a presentation on hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - to Mountain View County councillors during Wednesday's policies and priorities committee meeting.
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The past reeve of Mountain View County launched a fracking awareness campaign last week, calling on his council and other municipalities to press the Alberta government to get serious about regulating the controversial practice.

“I believe we have an unsuspecting public that isn’t being told the whole truth by the ERCB,” Div. 6 Coun. Paddy Munro told council’s policies and priorities committee Wednesday.

Munro’s 90-minute PowerPoint presentation to P&P drew a full gallery of about 55 people, including invited officials from neighbouring municipalities.

Saying that he was “here representing myself” and didn’t “expect any extra consideration,” Munro said the problem now is a lack of data, no disclosure of frac chemicals, downplaying of water usage by regulators and industry, and no licensing of water withdrawals.

The Energy Resource Conservation Board and stakeholder groups such as the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group have failed to publicly acknowledge the serious potential environmental impacts of fracking, he said.

While attending a recent oil and gas industry conference on media and community relations, Munro said he learned the industry is “scared stiff” about regulations that are coming in the wake of public concerns.

“Industry is scared to death because they know what’s coming. They know the regulators aren’t doing their job now, but they’re worried about it swinging the other way.”

The measures Munro is advocating include:

• Public disclosure of frac chemicals with tracers assigned to each company used on each hydraulic fracture.

• Baseline water testing. Investment by industry and government in a network of water monitoring wells.

• Public disclosure of all water withdrawals and identification of where the water is used.

• Recycling all flowback fluids for subsequent fracs or treatment at approved wastewater treatment facilities.

• Environmental impact assessments for any proposed water withdrawals exceeding a threshold established by environmental regulators.

• Wellbore construction and quality assurance tests on all adjacent wells.

• Establishing “no go zones” where fracking operations are banned outright or are subject to more stringent approvals.

• Paying fair royalties to all Albertans.

Munro pointed out during his presentation that the last decade has seen a revolution in fracking technology, enabling companies to create 10 to 60 frac zones per well, with one million to four million litres of water used for each frac zone.

“The water quantity that they’re using is massive,” he said.

His use of U.S. data and regulatory history, however, prompted Div. 7 Coun. Al Kemmere to ask if Munro had comparable Canadian data.

“I found it very difficult to find any information on Canada,” Munro said. “To get Alberta Environment on water usage … you cannot get an answer.”

Kemmere also asked what kind of criteria would be used to determine “no go zones.”

“I would suggest you’d need a more skilled professional than myself” to answer, Munro said.

Kemmere said one proposed measure he would question was the call for monitoring wells, since that strategy has been rejected for water wells because of risks of further contamination.

Div. 1 Coun. Kevin Good said one of the roles included in the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group’s mission statement was “sharing relevant information” with the public.

“Does this not fly in the face of what you said?” Good asked.

“I don’t think the organization is taken seriously,” Munro said of SPOG. “Most of the industry reps aren’t in the position to make any decisions. If we’re going to have 370 wells in our SPOG zone I’d like to see some communication with people who are actually going to make the decisions.”

“This presentation should have come from SPOG,” Good suggested.

“A lot of people just want their questions answered,” Munro said.

Despite the criticism of both bodies, Munro recommended council invite SPOG and the ERCB to speak at a future public meeting. He said he would be willing to repeat his PowerPoint presentation to SPOG or any interested group in Central Alberta, or to Premier Alison Redford if she wanted to hear it.

SPOG executive director Tracey McCrimmon, who attended Wednesday’s presentation, said she wished it had contained more relevant data on the industry in Alberta, rather than the U.S. experience. And she said many of the issues raised by Munro were recently identified by SPOG through its proactive engagement process.

With Munro on SPOG’s board of directors, McCrimmon said she will have to do a better job of keeping the rest of council updated on the group’s activities.

“Our process is not about debate,” she said. “It’s to get everybody at the table and create solutions.”

McCrimmon denied Munro’s claim that SPOG’s industry reps are all junior people.

“We have 40 to 50 very senior people” involved in the group’s proactive engagement process, although “for some committees he’s very right” about the industry designates, she said.

While SPOG members “don’t want to go backwards in our process” by revisiting issues that they have already identified, McCrimmon said she would like to see Munro present SPOG with his slides on fracking fluids.

“We welcome Paddy to come and share that. He is a stakeholder.”

McCrimmon said she understands Munro’s point of view and the P&P presentation gave him “an opportunity to vent,” she added, “but doesn’t change anything.”

As for the industry being scared of coming regulatory changes, McCrimmon said she doesn’t get that feeling from the industry stakeholders involved with SPOG.

“I don’t get the feeling they’re running scared in any way,” she said.

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, who also attended Wednesday’s presentation, said larger fracking operations have had some impact on roads in his county.

“That’s why it’s important we work with these companies to make sure we have a road system that is not deteriorated from the amount of trucks going on it,” Wood said.

“We haven’t seen these sizes of fracs (that Munro described during his presentation) coming into our region yet, but we’re doing what we can to make ourselves aware and prepared.”

While the county does not regulate the industry, he added, “we do try to make sure our residents are represented … and try to help information to come out. We’re interested. That’s why I’m here today.”

Munro said the next day that he had already been invited to speak on hydraulic fracturing at two colleges – Olds and Camrose – and four counties.

“I’ve got an unbelievable amount of emails – all of them in support,” Munro said.

At the outset of Wednesday’s meeting, Munro said he wanted to dispel rumours that he was involved as a county councillor in organizing last Thursday’s town hall meeting at Eagle Hill with Jessica Ernst, or that he’ll be a speaker at a series of meetings set up by Wildrose candidate Joe Anglin.

“It’s not true,” he said. “But I assure you I will attend (the Anglin meetings). And if (PC candidate) Ty Lund has meetings I will attend those as well because it’s my duty as a councillor.”


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